bloco vomit interview
(
November 1999)

Bloco Vomit streamed swiftly pavementwards from the wide-open mouth of Edinburgh's underground music scene in 1995, leaving passers-by pebble-dashed by splashback and wishing the band had listened to their mothers' advice. "Never mix your drinks," they said, "or your musics. You'll feel the worse for it, you mark my words." Not that the band ever listened, of course, but it might've been better for sensitive souls all round if they'd never dreamt up the vicious cocktail of samba and punk that they now call their own.

The band were formed when Carlos o Chacal (pseudonym alert!) met Hanley Crouch (ditto!) at the Edinburgh Samba School and during a post-rehearsal drink in the Kings Arms, Tollcross discovered they'd both got the same vision: to mix punk and samba. Several monthsof late night experimental sessions followed before Lady Lovelace (etc etc) was recruited and the rest of the band, by virtue of also frequenting the Kings Arms, came together later.

"Never mind the bossa nova," the debut album, took a rhythmic machette to a bunch of punk and new wave classics, chopping tracks like "Jilted John," "Roadrunner" and "Oh bondage, up yours!" into minced beat and three chords and cheekily re-covering "Police and thieves" with a satisfyingly apt samba-reggae lope. Quite apart from the way that the syncopated latin rhythms slotted so perfectly into the choppy, fractured pop songs, the most surprising thing about the album, to these Westernised ears, was the incredible range of sounds that percussion instruments can make.

New album, "Play this ya bastard," broadens out the source material to encompass "Sweet transvestite" (the band cross-dress for live shows), "Have love will travel", "Not fade away," a "Wild thing"/"Louie Louie" segue and a couple of originals. Pick of the bunch, though, are the two punk covers: an unmitigated trashing of "California uber alles" and another version (there's one on the first record too) of Crass' "Do they owe us a living?" The two albums have gained the band some attention in Brazil and an honorary position in the indigenous Mangue (pronounced "mun-gay") Beat movement which grew out of a manifesto authored by Chico Science and a couple of friends that promoted experimentation, musical and cultural cross-pollenisation and technology in a bid to get Recife, a town in northeast Brazil, some kind of musical nightlife. It worked, and spread, and 10 years on Mangue Beat is now a catch-all term for traditional Latino rhythms fused with Western rock.

On the eve of the release of "Play this ya bastard," Calos o Chacal (repinque, cowbell and vocals), Zen O'Phobia, Mr. E. Beet (both percussion and backing vocals),and Cherry Parsnip (caixa and vocals) join us to spill the (dancing) beans.

Are you a bunch of old punks turned samba, or a bunch of old samba demons turned punk?

Zen O'Phobia: I didn't know samba before playing it, nor punk before rattling my shaker. We are no punks nor sambistas I presume. Punk-sambistas? well, that description is getting very close.
Cherry Parsnip: Neither, just a bunch of old piss heads
Mr. E. Beet: A mixture of both with a couple of old rockers turned samba to mellow (subvert) the punk so we have a few tracks that are not unpleasant to listen to (hopefully).
Carlos o Chacal: Old punks. There are a couple of closet hippies in the band who've just given you their incense-smelling, tie-dyed, wishy washy, New Age answers....but myself, Hanley, Jal Frezi and Annie Climax at least are punk and proud of it! Annie wasn't young enough to be around at the start but she did play drums in a punk band at the age of sixteen (and they got given money at a party to stop playing).

Why do you think the marriage of the two musics seems to work so well?

Mr. E. Beet: The drums can provide a similar kind of primal energy to that which comes from bass guitar and kit drums in the classic punk/rock line up. Punk has it roots in rock which comes from the blues which comes from african music which is the same roots as Brazilian rhythms. In an age of drum machines and sequencers a groove that swings is a breath of fresh air.
Zen O'Phobia: We just love to play it. And it is hard work, you cannot do it with a computer (too perfect those machines, even with at random mistakes programmed in them), or without losing your grin. Some people recognize these vibes or maybe the tunes (which are great) and get up dancing. That is great. But why it works? Ask them.

Is "Samba Punk" a (logical) extension of what The Clash were doing with reggae?

Mr. E. Beet: It's all been done before? Not like this it hasn't!
Zen O'Phobia: Nothing is logical in music.
Carlos o Chacal: The Clash, the Ruts and a few of the early punk bands are clear influences, and the ska-punk movement too.

Do you get lots of old punks gobbing at you on stage?

Carlos o Chacal: That habit thankfully died a long time back. Reading stories of the early punk bands is stomach turning...washing and wringing out phlegm-drenched T shirts each night...I think that was the Heartbreakers first tour. The Lurkers' drummer got hepatitis from being spat on.

Were the old punks amongst you idealogues, or just into the music?

Carlos o Chacal: Definitely an idealogue---I was an anarchist before I was into punk, or about the same time. Punk shook up the music business, of course not for long, and punk labels, concerts and attitudes are strongly influenced by the DIY approach, mutual aid, decentralisation, distrust of large corporate dinosaurs and other essentially anarchist ideas.
Zen O'Phobia: I am an anarcho-punk which basically means no punk at all and every bit a punk. This serious ideology I discovered when I was five and pee-ed out of the window on my little bicycle. (My father just had said he liked the pink colour of the tyres). This made me cry of course, but I never gave up cycling. Later I discovered beer. Music didn't happen at that time for me but whatever I sang was defenitely punk. Everyone asked me to shut up.

Did punk achieve whatever you thought/think its aims were?

Carlos o Chacal: The revolution hasn't happened, but the world is a better place for punk. There is still a punk movement after 20 years! It became a fashion---and interestingly punk chic has strongly influenced mainstream fashion. Straight people are still a bit disturbed by punk, and that is probably good.
Zen O'Phobia: How can an anarcho protest-movement ever reach a goal? I am still underway, cycling against the hills and the wind.

Do you see anything with punk's spirit around now?

Carlos o Chacal: I'm a bit out of touch with contemporary music outside Latin and other world music, but there's plenty. I am involved with putting on benefit gigs for the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh and the spirit shown by the bands and people involved is definitely punk.

Were you excited by the crossover success of Richie Martin?

Carlos o Chacal: The success of Buenavista Social Club and Ibrahim Ferrer was what really excited me, though any Latin influences are to be welcomed - you can DANCE to Latin music. I bought their album in Holland and it was the first chart album I've bought for 20 years! They play 'son', which is the Cuban percussion based precursor of salsa (salsa got keyboards when the Cuban musicians started playing bebop clubs in New York), it is close in spirit and African percussion influences to samba. I haven't seen the film yet, but apparently it's amazing.

The rhythmic aspects of your music often seem pretty complex. How many people do you need to recreate them live?

Carlos o Chacal: Too many, speaking from the manager's point of view. The minimum is about five or six percussionists, plus guitar, trumpet and vocals. It's got up to 12 on occasion - we had five bass drummers.
Mr E. Beet: Depends on the track but most involve 1 vocal, 1 guitar, 1 trumpet, 3 surdos, 1 snare, 1 repenique, 1 shaker: which makes 9.

Is it easy to play live with the combination of acoustic drums and noisy guitars?

Mr E. Beet: Surprisingly yes, although bass guitar does not seem to work well as it becomes hard to distiguish it from the surdo and it tends to obscure the surdo arrangement.
Zen O'Phobia: When the stage monitors are off, we don't hear the singing and some strings broke during the warm-up/sound-check then it can become pretty ballistic on stage. But that has more to do with unrestrained enthusiasm.

Can you explain what the difference between some of the rhythms you use is? Does the type of rhythm depend on the speed, pattern and instruments used, for example? How rigid are the patterns, and how authentic are the ones that you use?

Mr E. Beat: Speed: No, although certain rhythmic styles work better at different tempos. Pattern: Sometimes. Most Brazilian rhythms have distinctive swing and emphasis in the parts that make it up. Some patterns have a clave, or key, that underlies the rhythm but just to confuse matters this is quite often not played, especially in authentic brazilian samba (least as I understand it). Instruments: It can help but is generally not essential How rigid are the patterns? It depends on the piece but where a traditional rhythmic style has been used as the basis for the percussion we tend to try to keep it sounding like that style, which imposes a certain amount of rigidity. That is because each style has distinctive features that must be present if it is to be recognizable as such. Mind you sometime we deliberately bend the rules and even play parts from one style of parts from another and othertime we just make it up as we go along. Authentic: Varying from nearly to not at all but never completely.
Zen O'Phobia: Well we call ourselves samba-punks. The punk attitude comes out in the way we treat our instruments and influences... you see we are far from trying to be professional musicians. We hack a lot of fun out of those drums, without suffering too much from stylistic or musical constraints. So, I have to admit, that makes it absolutely rigid what we do. As punks we are bound to traditions. Especially when we do some Brazilian rhythms, even if they do not fit the scheme of the originals, we change the songs; not the rhythms of course. You undoubtly hear that, in say, "Metal postcard" in which we put the authentic mittageisen pattern from Sao Paulo's Bixiga sound under the words and melody. You didn't know that Siouxsie wrote that song after her one-time off carnival experience over there in 1977? Another good example is "Sweet transvestite," an obvious example of walhalla beat from Brasilia.

How did you choose the tracks on the first album?

Zen O'Phobia: Those were the ones we could play
Carlos o Chacal: I think they were suggested by me, Hanley and Jal Frezi. It was his brilliant idea to do Jilted John. There were a couple of others, notably the Stranglers' "Peaches", which we tried and dropped.
Cherry Parsnip: Out of a hat.

That album was self-released, what kind of reactions did you get to it?

Zen O'Phobia: See the reviews on the web-site and start at the bottom to get a kind of chronological order. (www.tardis.ed.ac.uk/~ian/bv/cdreviews.html)
Carlos o Chacal: Pretty diverse but generally very stimulating

Did you anticipate doing another album, or was it a "let's record the songs we're playing live" kind of thing?

Zen O'Phobia: Well, those were the other ones we learned to play when the first one was produced.
Carlos o Chacal: Yes, we found we had more material, and wanted to use our experiences from the first one, for instance in how to produce samba-punk-rock'n'roll in the studio; so it just happened.

Why did you re-do "Do they owe us a living?" on the new album? Was that a different rhythm you used on each or just different speeds?

Carlos o Chacal: Crass themselves did a very slow version of this song as well as the thrash version, so it just seemed natural, and the fast batucada rhythm we used on the first album isn't appropriate for slow songs. Samba-reggae, almost reggae in this song, is perfect.
Zen O'Phobia: Well it is fun to hear the lyrics, thus a slow reggae-version after our first batucada one was more or less natural. Saves on the inlay-textbook.

Why did you branch out from punk so much on the new album?

Zen O'Phobia: I don't understand you. We are still punk-sambista's and haven't changed our attitude, we are still messing around with songs and traditions. You see that is our contribution: making samba-punk out of rock-ballads; most of the time it is the other way round, sadly enough, smooth singers soothing away the roughness of vital energies ...
Carlos o Chacal: It just happened. Suddenly we had three rock'n'roll numbers, there was some experimentation with the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and our own numbers are strange, one a Brazilian Hawkwind perhaps and the other difficult to define. One has to see how the music develops. I would like to do another album of punk classics in the future, though. We've done the Rezillo's 'Can't Stand My Baby' and 'Surfin Bird'. We've even done 'Interstellar Overdrive'! Garage and R'n'B influenced punk so there is a continuum.

And now you're signed to a Brazilian label. Tell us a little about them, and how it happened.

Carlos o Chacal: Amazing, Pedro Serra, a Brazilian journalist, picked up our CD from a shop in London while on holiday. He wrote about us and played us at gigs he DJs in Rio de Janeiro. Soon everyone was going wild over our version of 'Should I Stay or Should I Go'. Then we got in touch with Trama who heard the album and wanted to sign us.

Tell us a bit about Mangue Beat.

Carlos o Chacal: Manguebeat grew out of the town of Recife in the North East of Brazil, as a movement, partly social and cultural, but based musically around the fusion of rap, hip hop, rock and traditional Brazilian rhythms from that part of Brazil. Chico Science and the band Nacao Zumbi really kicked it off. Their albums are amazing! Sadly Chico Science was killed in a car crash in 1997, but the movement is flourishing. The really important thing is that through listening to Manguebeat, many Brazilians became interested in their own music for the first time. Pedro Serra, a Brazilian journalist who has done more than anyone else to tell the Brazilians about us, wrote a fascinating article on Manguebeat in the Fall 1999 issue of Raygun.

Presumably, your Brazilian label see you as part of that scene but you didn't start out with that intention?

Carlos o Chacal: No, we didn't think of ourselves as part of this movement, but as we had got interested in Brazilian rhythms and with our background in punk and other 'European/U.S.' music, it is not surprising. We just came at it from another direction. It is really interesting : when Brazilians listen to our music, they hear it as Manguebeat.
Zen O'Phobia: Ask them whether we belong to that scene; probably they just listened to what we do and like it. So (sigh...) difficult these (..yawn...) qualifications. And I don't think anyone will ever start to pick up a drum or guitar and say: "Let's do some mangue," whatever that is. No it did not happen like that. We do play on both albums some maracatu, which is one of the old local rythms in North East Brazil, the region Chico Science came from (Olinda, Pernambuco). We kick on those off-beat patterns; very, very powerful and energetic. What Chico Science did was putting rap, grunge or whatever style you mention on top of these traditional rythms. Maybe that combination is called mangue? At least it made maracatu very popular among the youngsters over there so that the declining traditional bands got revived. Well, for us it is the combination of very different styles we love to play. And maybe it is just that, the combination, which appealed to this company. Ask them.

How did they find you?

Carlos o Chacal: Well, a good friend of ours (and honorary member of the band), Ze Allen, a musician from Recife, knows Carlos Miranda from Trama (Carlos is very well known in Brazil and produced Raimundos and Mundo Livre). I told Ze we were looking for distribution there, sent an email to Carlos and got a reply back saying 'I've heard the album, it's great! Here's the deal...'. Of course we have spent six months sorting out the contract and other issues since then.
Zen O'Phobia: In the Yellow Pages, under the heading punk-samba....no just kidding...look under samba-punk. Probably they got to know about us after some articles in a music magazine and a paper in Recife.
Mr E. Beat: Not sure, but it is probably something to do with a certain member of the band being an outragous self publicist.

Finally, where does the cross-dressing fit in to all this?

Zen O'Phobia: Well, we are---as you might have understood---very, very serious about this. We went to the former manager of the Spice Thrills, Sandy MacShane, and obtained---after some good drinking sessions---his advice to look abroad for an image. Thus, in 1997 and under cover of the Edinburgh Samba School most of us went to Olinda and played samba with skirts on---according to the Brazilians, laughing 'Saia, Saia' when they saw our kilts. This made us think of dressing like Brazilians during carnival (where it is common to cross-dress); but I have to admit we are not succeeding very well...

...and you'd agree if you'd got copies of the photos. There's no lack of success on the musical front though, with "Play this ya bastard" being released this month. Contact the band at PO Box 23109, Edinburgh, EH6 4ZN or xcp@pobox.com and look them up on the web: pobox.com/~bloco_vomit


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